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Can you help your child learn to read?

Hannah Hunter Hannah Hunter | 07:51 UK time, Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Learning to read can be stressful for parents and children alike. With so many complicated sounding terms used by educationalists and in the media when discussing reading  - synthetic phonics, analytic phonics, graphemes and phonemes - it's no wonder many parents worry about doing the right thing.

So what does all the jargon actually mean? How much support should you give them at home?  What should you do if your child wants to learn to read before school, and will you interfere with what will be learned in future if you try to help?

I am a trained primary school teacher and a mother of two pre-schoolers, so I feel in a good position to explain some of the more opaque language used and to challenge some of the myths surrounding reading.

Storytime @ Matka Wariaka - Fotolia

Different methods of teaching reading go in and out of fashion.The current trend is for synthetic phonics, whereby children learn the alphabet sounds (phonemes), and most commonly used graphemes (blends or groups of letters, such as tr-, oo, -ight and so on). These are generally learned before tackling any text, with schemes such as Jolly Phonics or Oxford Reading Tree commonly used in reception classes.  

However, a lot of children will still be learning the old-fashioned way of whole-word recognition and analytic phonics (understanding the basic letter-sounds).  If the first sound of the word is recognised, the child can then work out, usually from the illustration and what has gone before in the story, what the new word is.  By repeating stories and phrases, whole words are remembered, avoiding the need to break down a word each time.

My eldest has been very keen on stories and books from an early age, and has largely learned to read by himself. We have always played games like eye-spy and both love making up silly stories, songs and rhymes as well as reading stories together. Without being formally taught, he knows the letters of the alphabet and their sounds (with help from the likes of the CBeebies Alpha Blocks)  and is able to read simple words and short stories. 

I’m not worried about him getting confused when he goes to school – although it’s not the way he’s learned so far, most synthetic phonics programmes are fun as well as being informative, so I don’t think he’ll be bored.  

As a parent, you can make reading fun and accessible for your child. If they are ready and want to read, there is no reason why you shouldn’t help them at home – you don’t need to have expert knowledge, just enthusiasm. Your local library is a great resource, with lots of early reading books as well as stories to share together. With all the talk of cuts to library services, there’s no better time to show how much we need them!  

Hannah Hunter is a member of the BBC Parent Panel.


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